China to find 'language teacher' for panda from U.S

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A panda breeding center in southwest China is looking for a "Chinese language teacher" and a "boyfriend" to welcome a female panda from the United States later this week.

Giant panda Tai Shan enjoys a cake during a farewell party at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., the United States, Jan. 30, 2010. [Xinhua]

Giant panda Tai Shan enjoys a cake during a farewell party at the National Zoo in Washington D.C., the United States, Jan. 30, 2010. [Xinhua]

Three-year-old Mei Lan will be flown to the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan Friday from Washington, together with Tai Shan, a 4-year-old male panda.

"Mei Lan has been living in the United States since she was born, and she must be unfamiliar with Chinese, especially the Sichuan dialect," said Huang Xiangming, director of the base's animal management department.

"So we will find a Chinese language teacher for her, in addition to an exclusive keeper, and help her adapt to her new life faster," he said.

Meanwhile, the base is asking the public to choose a "boyfriend" for Mei Lan as she had reached mating age, he said.

"We have created web pages on popular Internet portals to post images and introduce Mei Lan and a number of male pandas. We are inviting panda fans to vote for the best 'boyfriend' for Mei Lan according to their physical appearance, character, living habits and experts' suggestions on the match," he said.

Mei Lan would have to change her diet habits gradually.

"We have asked the American zookeepers to bring Mei Lan's favorite biscuits, but we will gradually use Chinese 'wotou' (steamed bread of corn, sorghum and others) and fresh bamboo to replace biscuits," Huang said.

Mei Lan would be quarantined for a certain period just like all other pandas arriving from overseas, he said.

Mei Lan has been living at Zoo Atlanta since she was born in September 2006. Her parents Lun Lun and Yang Yang arrived in Atlanta in November 1999.

Tai Shan, who was born in July 2005 and raised at the National Zoo of Washington D.C., will later go to the Ya'an Bifeng Gorge Breeding Base of Wolong National Nature Reserve, another panda breeding center in Sichuan.

Tai Shan was supposed to come to China at the age of two. The Chinese government agreed to postpone its return twice in 2007 and 2009 at the request of the National Zoo.

Tai Shan's father Tian Tian, 13, and mother Mei Xiang, 12, are due to return to China in December next year.

According to the agreements reached by Chinese and American authorities, giant pandas are only loaned to the United States for scientific studies -- such as Mei Lan and Tai Shan's parents, and all their cubs must also be sent back to China.

Thirteen Chinese giant pandas are in four zoos in the United States.

Giant pandas, known for being sexually inactive, are among the world's most endangered animals.

About 1,600 giant pandas live in China's wild, mostly in Sichuan and the northwestern provinces of Shaanxi and Gansu. Another 290 are in captive-breeding programs worldwide, mainly in China.

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